December 21, 2008
Five ways to lose to the Democrats
By Bill Kraus
A few things we now know for sure, or for pretty sure:
1. The vaunted Republican base cannot win elections.
2. Covert, coded appeals to racial fears are not going to bring in a decisive number of voters anymore. George Wallace is dead and his followers are dying.
3. The theocratic strategy is a bad trade off. The remaining Republican moderates who have not already abandoned ship would have done so if the party had gone for Huckabee or even Romney this year, and the base would have lost even worse than it did.
4. War weariness and military incompetence have trumped jingoism and xeonophobia.
5. Because the party organization no longer finds and slates candidates and funds their campaigns the moderates who used to fight off the zealots and true believers who assemble there, the people who ran the Eisenhower party, are still homeless. The game--taking over the party--is not worth the candle. Until and unless the Dreyfus proposal of 1980, which would have sent all Political Action Committee contributions to candidates through the parties, is enacted (fat chance) the Republican Party is going to remain in the hands of the anarchists, the anti-taxers, the free marketers, the right-to-lifers, the 2nd amendment addicts, and assorted smaller, strident causists who think they are the true conservatives.
Not all that long ago a group of Wisconsin Republicans could see where the just emerging Reagan-philia was headed and formed something called the New Republican Conference (NRC). Actually, this was a misnomer. They were really the old Eisenhower Republicans, and were forerunners of the less old Dreyfus and Thompson Republicans. It’s the new Republicans that followed in Reagan’s wake that have remade the Republican Party. Think of them as the 21st century Whigs.
The NRC believed that the public sector had a legitimate role to play in society, just not the starring role. They believed in a government that was both frugal and competent, a government that worked. They were mildly libertarian and protective of ideas like minority rights and rights of privacy. They were regulation leery but not regulation averse. They believed in the free market but they knew, despite its surpassing virtues, it cannot be allowed to run amok. They did not engage in flights of fancy. They were not cavalier about using the military; they remembered Eisenhower’s farewell warning as well as what he said about planning for and going to war.
Perhaps most important of all, they believed that there were other points of view on matters on the public agenda than theirs that deserved consideration. Their definition of moderation was to be less sure about anything than the new, new Republicans are about everything.
Maybe it’s time for the new Whigs to go so the NRC can take over...again.
December 14, 2008
By Bill Kraus
We have always had variable expectations about the moral footings of the people and organizations we deal with. About how trustworthy they would be, how long a leash they deserved, what level of risk we were taking when we dealt with them.
Used car dealers always seemed to be on the bottom of the list.
Legislators were a mixed bag. They went from sleazy on up to above reproach, but the category was approached with caution.
Investment advisors, business people and lawyers also got a thorough once-over before earning our trust.
The higher up the ladder, the more likely we were to put them in a category of respect and all that went with it.
Legislative leaders, governors, presidents, top executives of major companies, the judiciary, got pretty much a free pass. Their words were good.
The slippage recently has been pretty precipitous and dramatic. Who is going to take any CEO or legislative leader or even governor at face value in the wake of Enron, pay-for-play representatives, footsie players in airports, money-in-cold-storage members of Congress, and the like?
Even the holier-than-thou judiciary has suffered a kind of free-for-all partisan campaigning that gives off an odor not associated with those who wear the robe until recently.
As bad as all this is, the worst of it is that we are not getting what we expected and routinely got from the people and organizations who we look to to keep others, including ourselves, in line.
We look to the press, the accounting profession, the clergy, rating agencies, bankers, and boards of directors to make certain those whose activities and lives they oversee are turning square corners.
The press has an excuse. There aren’t enough reporters anymore to blow all the whistles that need blowing.
When Arthur Anderson gave Enron a pass, the whole accounting profession suffered.
We expected religious leaders to advise not abuse their parishioners.
Rating agencies are supposed to set and enforce standards not take their fees and look aside.
Bankers are entrusted with knowing whether the money they are lending has any chance of being repaid.
And boards of directors of enterprises are not supposed to run the place but to make sure the people who they have chosen to run the place are running it well and right, in every sense of that word.
Have those charged with making sure that their charges are turning square corners developed round heels themselves? Seems so.
December 6, 2008
The $750 million question
By Bill Kraus
Actually it was about $720 million. There’s still about $30 million in the Obama campaign bank account.
The silence surrounding this revelation was as deafening as the silence surrounding the earlier announcement that Barack was not going to take public money and the spending limits that would come along with it.
The reform community was clearly smitten with the candidate and didn’t want to do or say anything that would disrupt his route to what always seemed to me to be certain victory.
The press was otherwise engaged. The story on the $750 million was on page 26 of the New York Times and didn’t appear at all in either the Wisconsin State Journal or the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Obama seems to be the beneficiary of two political phenomenona:
The Kohl effect. Kohl’s war chest was beyond criticism because it was his money. Obama’s got the same immunity because so much of it was raised on the Internet in nickels and dimes, and much of what was raised was spent on retail organization, which is admirable, instead of television commericals which are not.
The Jesse Unruh effect. The polls show that 77 percent of us think that big political contributions buy favorable treatment. If we are convinced, though, that the candidate who is the beneficiary of Big Money follows the longtime California pol’s dictum--if you can’t take their money, eat their food, drink their whiskey, and vote against them, you don’t belong in this business--that candidate is beyond corruptibility, which Obama may be, probably is.
Given that, the real damage done by the $750 million campaign is that the merchants of political marketing will use it to prove to their clients that those who spend the most win.
They commit these clients to a lifetime of dialing for dollars and wooing heavy breathers to get enough money to outspend their opponents, and having enough left over or in reserve to match the attacks from anonymous and rich campaign hijackers as well, if that should become necessary.
If, as, and when candidates and even incumbents tire of this, they should call. I’ve got a bill for them.
December 2, 2008
By Bill Berry
The Department of Natural Resources has 8,000 good reasons to slow plans for a huge dairy operation in Fond du Lac County.
The owners of Rosendale Dairy want to build an 8,000-cow farm, and the DNR has correctly asked for a full environmental impact statement in the matter, rather than a less rigorous environmental assessment.
Many in the dairy industry and the farm sector are crying foul, but on this one, they’re wrong. I have worked closely with some of these folks for several years on programs that support protection of farmland.
It’s essential to our state’s economic future and important to our efforts to protect natural resources and open space. But the impact of a dairy operation of this size merits close attention and the kind of public involvement that an environmental impact statement allows.
Remember, a single cow generates as much waste as 18 people. So 8,000 cows equals 144,000 people. By any measure, that is a huge impact. Questions about waste storage and spreading, air and water quality, impacts on neighbors and other farming operations, and numerous other issues need to be addressed before an operation of this magnitude is allowed to move forward.
Some of my friends in the environmental community oppose any and all large dairy operations. They call them factory farms. Like it or not, large farms are a reality, and a review of environmental records shows that large farms have a good track record, better than some smaller operations.
As Agriculture Secretary Rod Nilsestuen and others point out, the diversity of Wisconsin’s agricultural is one of its main strengths. Agriculture needs big farms, medium-sized farms and small farms to remain competitive.
But when we’re talking about 8,000-cow operations, prudence trumps boosterism.